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Behind the Scenes of “The Moral Paper Route”

Last week I had the chance to sit down with Jared Fuller, the first place winner of AEI’s “Make the Moral Case for Free Enterprise” 2012 video contest. The contest challenge: articulate a moral case for free markets in two minutes or less. “The Moral Paper Route” earned the $40,000 top prize. “The Moral Paper Route” tells the story of a young boy who takes on a paper route to help his immigrant family make ends meet after the government shuts down their home-run textile business. Led by narration from the grown up boy’s point of view, and lulled by the tune of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” we see the boy’s hard work translate into the funds the family needs to open a successful wedding boutique. The Makings of “The Moral Paper Route” “Will you take me behind the scenes of this video?” I asked Jared. While he created the core vision, focusing on coming up with a compelling story, Jared quickly named Scott Nguyen and the rest of his talented team as the force that transformed the vision into a powerful two-minute reality. The heart of the story is the little boy’s motivation: “For me, freedom was helping my parents get closer to their dream,” the narrator explains. His initiative and hard work clearly represent moral fiber, dedication and virtue. A paper route demands more than a lemonade stand, Jared pointed out. A lemonade stand can be a one-time thing—and can be subsidized by overly helpful parents. But a paper route makes daily crack-of-dawn demands. While Jared never ran a paper route himself, he did grow up spending his after school hours cleaning tools and helping his dad until closing time at their family-owned firearms store and pawn shop. (Note: If you watch the video closely, you will see the boy selling his violin at a pawn shop as one of his efforts to help his family.) He watched his father burn the midnight oil in order to provide for the family, and Jared learned from the experience of working hard in solidarity with him. As it turns out, the video’s core claim aligns with Jared’s hours in the family store just as much as it traces the path of the paper route:
We who live in free market societies believe that growth, prosperity and, ultimately, human fulfillment are created from the bottom-up, not government-down. When the human spirit is allowed to invent and create, only when individuals are given a personal stake in economic policies and benefitting from their success; only then can we remain alive, dynamic, progressive and free.
But the framework of ideas behind Jared’s claim at the end of the video that free enterprise is “a moral right” comes from more than just long work hours. During high school and college, Jared dove into the ideas of F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and the intellectual giants behind the Austrian School of economics. “I got started in the academic side of free enterprise and supported it in theory first,” Jared explained. “Then I wanted to try to do it—to practice what I preached; I wanted to start businesses without taking government grants or handouts, to make it in the marketplace.” And “make it” he has, many times over—at only 24 years old. Jared is the president and CEO of Market Aces, a marketing firm dedicated to advancing free market principles; CEO of the Liberty Business Bureau, a coalition dedicated to moral business practices (free of subsidies and government contracts and lobbyist ties); and a strategic advocate of “businesses operating within the confines of moral structure.” Jared’s Advice for Students What are the secrets to Jared’s success? I asked him what advice he would offer to college students with a drive to achieve and contribute in today’s tough economic environment. Quoting Mark Twain, Jared offered the insightful quip, “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.” “I loved studying philosophy,” Jared said. Despite common classroom rhetoric that denies the existence of truth, Jared found great value in studying “what is true and right.” But, as Twain insinuates, the trouble with school is that it teaches us to complete things according to somebody else’s standards. After four years of schooling in philosophy and political science, and a set of credits that didn’t line up with the prescribed graduation requirements, Jared walked away from Wake Forest University without a diploma. He knew what he wanted: to start a business that would put his principles into action. He didn’t need more school to move him toward that goal. While Jared may never work as an academic philosopher, he puts his philosophy to work every day. “An entrepreneur is closer to a philosopher than a statesman,” Jared argued. “Imagine Socrates as a businessman!” If Socrates ran a knife shop, you could count on him to investigate what constitutes a good knife and work tirelessly to produce the truest knives around. “Cicero didn’t have that kind of ingenuity; he ran an empire stabilized by slave labor—he couldn’t have created things from the ground-up like a philosopher or entrepreneur can.” In the end, Jared reminded me, enterprise isn’t only moral; it satisfies, challenges and weaves us together with our families and coworkers—whether we’re running pawn shops, paper routes or marketing firms. Jared recalls that when he decided to leave school and start his first business, he had two supporters. One was his business partner. The other? His dad.